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Education coalition to policymakers: Listen to local voices on Detroit schools

Skillman Foundation

Locally-generated solutions should drive any effort to fix Detroit schools.

That’s the message coming from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, a group that formed just this week.

It’s an unusually broad group that includes community, business, union, and education leaders working in the city.

“This is not a coalition of the usual suspects,” said Skillman Foundation President and CEO Tonya Allen, one of the group's five co-chairs. “We have asked people, quite honestly, to put their weapons down and stop fighting each other, so we can purposely fight for our kids.”

Allen said that despite their differences, the group shares some basic principles: a belief in “local control” and self-determination in education; the need for “multiple partners” to be involved in school reforms; and a recognition that every interest group may need to let go of some cherished ideas and even institutions.

Beyond that, the coalition’s goals are vague for now. But Allen said they will meet regularly over the next 90 days, then issue a set of recommendations along with “clear ideas” about how to implement them.

The coalition is well aware that Gov. Snyder and other leaders have pinpointed improving Detroit’s education landscape as the next big priority to tackle in the city. Members say they agree, but urge those leaders should proceed with caution—and listen to local voices.  

“We urge Lansing and our lawmakers to give our coalition a fighting chance to complete our work before we get into the battle,” said John Rakolta, coalition co-chair and CEO of the construction firm Walbridge.

Angela Reyes, another co-chair and Executive Director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, said she’s “seen and lived the devastating effects” that years of top-down reform efforts have had on the city's children.

“It’s time for those of us who live this life every single day, who are experiencing those results, to be part of the solution,” Reyes said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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